- Buy wrapping paper and decorations now! You’ll find bargain prices for all wrapping supplies and holiday ornaments and they won’t go bad over the year. Save a bundle by stocking up now.
- Shop for next year’s presents in January. These will also be steeply discounted and you can save oodles of money by buying things that never go out of style
- Save all the gift cards you get throughout the year for the holiday season.
- Keep your eyes open for gifts all year long. Whenever you spot a great find or an amazing bargain, grab it. You’ll save by buying what’s on sale and spreading out your gift shopping, instead of doing it all in a month or two.
How do you plan ahead all year for a holiday season that leaves no financial stress in its wake? Share your best tips with us in the comments!
The holiday season brings a flurry of frenzied consumerism, unabashed greed and endless shopping. As a parent, though, you want your kids to associate this time of year with giving and not just with taking. How can you give your kids a joyous holiday season and teach them about kindness at the same time?
The best way to do this is by actively encouraging your children to think of others. Try these activities to help bring the spirit of giving into your home this year:
1.) One in = one out
Is your toy chest overflowing? Do your kids have more games than they need? Institute a rule this holiday season: When you’ve gotten a new toy, choose one to give away. Set up a large box in the corner of your playroom and have your children place one toy in the giveaway box for every new one they receive. They can choose older toys they’ve lost interest in or those they’ve outgrown. When the box is full, take a family trip to the local toy drive or to a needy family in the neighborhood. Watch your kids’ faces light up as they make others happy with their thoughtful donations.
2.) Season’s greetings
Designate one evening this season for writing holiday cards. No, not to your family and friends – these cards are for children who’ve been stricken with illness. Set up a table with lots of cardstock and all your kids’ favorite crafts supplies. Speak to your family about sick children who might be sad this Christmas and could use a simple homemade greeting card to cheer them up. Have fun creating your masterpieces and inscribing them with positive, encouraging messages. Then, get your gang into the car and drive over to the local hospital to deliver them personally!
3.) Grocery giveaway
Many grocery stores hold food drives during the holiday season. Help support a local cause and teach your children about giving to others at the same time. Take your child along with you on your next trip to the grocery and have them choose one food item to purchase for the food drive. If you usually let your child pick a treat at the grocery, ask them if they’d like to forego it this time and instead buy something for the needy. Make sure your child is the one to actually place the chosen food item into the collection bin so they can personally experience the joy of giving.
4.) Senior moments
Does your child love performing? If you’ve got a young star at home, this is the perfect way to teach them to use their talents to make others happy. Have your child invite several friends over one afternoon and ask them to prepare a small dance or a short comedy routine. Let them dig through your costume collection to outfit themselves for their grand debut and practice their gig until it’s perfect. Then, delivery them to the local nursing home for spreading the cheer among the residents. They’ll relish the stardom and the residents will adore the little performance. That’s a win-win all around!
The holidays are a stressful time of year if you’re in college. You’ve got to pack your whole life into a suitcase for a month while passing the hardest tests you’ve taken in your life. It’s tough to remember gift shopping.
There are lots of ways you can take part in family gift giving. Try these low-cost gift ideas to make your parents, friends and family smile! Let’s spread some goodwill!
1.) Do the legwork or research on a joint gift
If you have older siblings or other potential allies, you may be able to work out a joint gift for your parents. They could provide the funding while you do the research and legwork. For example, your mom has wanted new cookware. Do the research on the best brand and shop around to get it at the best price. You do the wrapping, and sign both your names to the card. This isn’t just for mom and dad – consider working with your parents to get gifts for younger siblings. You make a contribution of time and effort to the gift giving process and have a chance to show you care. As a college student, you’re learning all kinds of research skills; put them to the test and find the right gift at the right price!
2.) Find nifty, locally produced stuff in your college town
College towns are full of cottage industries. Somewhere in town, a tiny shop has soaps, jams, posters, and other local goods. These are the best kinds of gifts because they’re easy to transport, are consumable, and there’s nothing to dust. You can fill your bag with soaps, candles, and other little gifts to give to friends back home and extended family. It helps them connect to where you are and might give them a reason to come visit!
3.) DIY dorm room projects
Finding projects you can tackle in a space that’s the size of a cubicle can be a challenge. Cruising DIY hubs like Buzzfeed and Pinterest can produce hundreds of neat ideas. You can make hand-decorated mugs, framed pictures or braided necklaces. There are tons of projects that don’t demand much in either space or supplies. All it costs you is a little bit of money, a free Saturday and a whole lot of love. You can make sentimental, hand-crafted presents for everyone in your life.
With crowded stores and an ever-growing list of people to shop for, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to overspend on your holiday shopping. No worries, though; UCCU’s got you covered! Read on for pre-and post-holiday tips and have yourself a jolly December without breaking the bank.
1. Revise your gift list
Chances are, lots of the people you exchange gifts with would be relieved to be taken off your list. Talk to coworkers and acquaintances about just exchanging cards this year, or make a deal to only exchange homemade or inexpensive gifts.
This way, you can focus on buying special gifts for those closest to you instead of generic gifts for everyone you’ve ever met.
2. Organize a Yankee Swap or Secret Santa
Still got a mile-long list? Try one of these creative solutions! A Yankee Swap or a Secret Santa activity saves money and stress while adding a bit of intrigue to any party. Everyone involved only needs to bring a single gift – and it’s always fun.
Set a reasonable price cap on gifts so no one walks out with a candy cane while the person next to them hauls off a flat-screen TV.
3. Bake holiday treats
Reduce the financial weight of the season by whipping up your own holiday treats instead of buying gifts.
It’s hard to find the perfect gift, but no one turns down a tin of homemade holiday cookies!
4. Make a budget and stick to it
We all plan to stick to a budget this holiday season – make this the year it really happens.
Set an absolute limit to how much you will spend on the holidays. This will encourage you to plan your spending rather than grabbing impulse items as you shop.
5. Make use of holiday deals….but don’t get distracted
When prices drop, we sometimes go wild, snatching up random items because we don’t want to miss out on those “crazy, low holiday prices.”
Make use of these deals by buying items on your list at a discounted price – but don’t buy things you don’t need.
6. Rethink giving
Instead of running to the mall again, think of other ways you can give that will make the world a better place and truly brighten someone’s holiday.
It’s the perfect time of year to volunteer at local soup kitchens, homeless shelters and charity organizations.
2 Post-Holiday Tips
1. Use those gift cards
Gift cards are a typical holiday gift, but they’re often forgotten and unused.
Put your gift cards in your wallet and spend them creatively. If you’re not a fan of on-the-go coffee, use your Starbucks gift card to pick up ground coffee beans to use at home. Rent a movie with your iTunes card. Whatever it might be, just use those gift cards!
You’ll probably wind up with a bunch of gifts you don’t want. Hold onto them; many gifts can be re-gifted next year or used as birthday gifts throughout the year.
Most people love the prospect of saving big on Black Friday sales, but are worried about the risks. Between the danger that crowds pose and the possibility of your credit card being compromised, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Black Friday does pose some serious risks to shoppers, but with the proper safety measures, you can protect yourself without missing out on the biggest shopping day of the year.
1.) Plan ahead
Planning ahead means you’ll spend less, be out of line faster and decrease your risks. Sites like BlackFriday.com can help you plan your day and find the best deals.
2.) Credit card only
Credit cards are the best way to shop when there are high risks to your safety. You can always dispute a charge; you can never reclaim stolen cash. Also, keep your card as close to you as possible. If using a debit card, cover the payment terminal with your other hand when inputting your PIN.
3.) Shop with a friend
The mall may be crowded, but a determined criminal can find a way to corner you and empty your wallet or take your bags. Stick with your friends and never enter deserted areas alone.
4.) Keep your cool
Nothing you can purchase on Black Friday is worth your health or safety. Avoid all scuffles with fellow shoppers.
5.) Move your car
If you spend the day at the mall and routinely drop off your bags in your car, it’s best to move your car to a different spot. Thieves watch shoppers leaving the mall with lots of bags and follow them to their cars. If they see you dropping off your goodies and then heading back to the mall, they’ll consider making off with your things. If you drive off, though, they’ll think you’re leaving and won’t follow you.
6.) Online safety
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are notorious for online scams of every kind. Here’s what to remember when shopping online:
A. Beware of phishing scams
Be alert for suspicious looking emails and links. Delete anything that doesn’t look right.
B. Make sure your connection is secure
Verify security by looking for the padlock icon on the address bar and by using sites with an “S” tacked on to the “http.”
C. Pay securely
Only use trusted payment systems like PayPal or GoogleWallet. Shop from sites you trust and make sure they’re legitimate by checking the URL and looking out for sites that end in .org or .net. Never agree to wire money for a purchase.
D. Strengthen your system
Before shopping online, check that your device’s security systems are updated with the most recent protection and security patches. If you’re using Wi-Fi, make sure the network is secure and requires a password to join.
Your Turn: Do you have any other tips for safe shopping on Black Friday Cyber Monday? Share them with us in the comments!
Thanksgiving means giving thanks for all the good in our lives. It also means stuffed turkey and gravy, cranberry pie and mashed potatoes. It’s a time-honored tradition of spending time enjoying a delectable holiday meal while in the company of those we love.
It can also mean spending an awful lot of money.
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average host cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 guests will spend approximately $50 on the dinner alone. Of course, if you’re expecting more than 10 guests or you tend to overspend when hosting, your costs can easily top that amount. Between the turkey, ingredients for that luscious holiday meal and décor to set the ambiance, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is not cheap.
Looking for ways to cut back without compromising on the quality and festivity of your meal? Look no further! At UCCU, we love to keep your wallet plump. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of seven easy ways for you to save on your Thanksgiving costs this year.
1.) Verify your guests’ attendance
Before you start writing up a spectacular menu or a detailed shopping list, check to make sure you have an accurate head count of the guests and family members who will be joining you for Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t want to end up with a fridge full of leftovers. Verify that all who are invited are indeed planning on showing, and only then begin planning your menu.
2.) Find out what your guests like
While you’re doing your inviting, ask for your guests’ individual tastes. You don’t want to forget that Great Aunt Martha is on a strict gluten-free food plan or that your cousin’s spouse is a vegetarian. Aside from specialized diets, ask about particular foods your guests like to eat and those they won’t touch. If something on your menu isn’t very popular with your guests, skip it – even if you think it’s an “obligatory” Thanksgiving food. This way, you won’t slave over a pumpkin soup that nobody will touch or end your holiday meal with trays full of leftovers and lots of hungry guests.
3.) Make it a potluck
Slash your spending and your stress in one step by answering an enthusiastic “yes!” to every guest who asks if they can bring something. Don’t just say “anything’s fine,” though, or you might have seven desserts. Instead, create a Google Sheet or group message with your planned menu and let your guests input what they’d like to contribute to the meal. This way, they’ll know exactly what you need, you’ll know what they’re bringing, and best of all, you won’t be doing all the cooking yourself.
4.) Serve on smaller plates
Most people will load up their plates to capacity, regardless of the plate’s size. Curb the wasting at your table by using smaller dinnerware. Let your guests load up all the way without leaving half-full plates. They can always refill if they still want to eat more later.
5.) DIY décor
You can set a beautiful holiday tablescape without blowing your budget; all it takes is a little imagination. Shop the local dollar store for discounted décor that still packs a punch, like colored vases, fake flower arrangements, and other centerpieces. Look for easy, inexpensive DIY ideas online. Finally, get creative by using things from around the house – or yard – as your décor. For instance, you can create a whimsical candleholder by affixing cinnamon sticks around a candle or design an autumn-themed centerpiece with leaves and pinecones from your own yard.
6.) Shop the sales
Grocery stores and shopping centers tend to run specials on turkeys and other Thanksgiving staples starting as early as Halloween. Plan your menu several weeks in advance so you can take advantage of these sales. Keep it flexible until you see the circulars and then base your dishes on the ingredients and produce that’s cheapest. Also, be sure to shop around for your turkey! Supermarkets tend to have the best deals on the birds, with some even running free turkey deals when you spend a specific amount on other groceries.
7.) Cook from scratch
Most everything is less expensive – and tastes better – when it’s homemade. Think gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and apple pie. Start your cooking well enough in advance so you don’t find yourself relying on too many convenience foods and paying the price both in cash and taste. Your wallet and your guests will thank you!
When you gather ’round the table with family and friends this Thanksgiving, you can be thankful for all the good in your life without feeling guilty over how much you spent on the meal. All it takes is a little planning!
Your Turn: What are your best Thanksgiving dinner hacks? Share them with us in the comments!
Don’t invest a penny before you build a substantial savings account.
This might sound counterintuitive to a wannabe investor, but it’s important to have a solid cushion of savings before you start putting your money into the market. Life is full of surprises. You don’t want to be caught in an emergency that leaves you desperate for cash when all your funds are tied up in bonds, CDs and stocks.
This month, work on building up your savings to minimize risk. Here’s how.
- Follow the 50/30/20 rule. Financial advisers suggest that 50% of your income goes toward necessities, like your mortgage, transportation and food costs; 30% goes toward discretionary non-essentials, like dining out, paying for a top-tier cellphone plan and updating your wardrobe; and the last 20% goes toward savings. If you begin dividing each paycheck automatically, you’ll launch a habit of saving that will greatly enhance your financial life.
- Put away three to six months of living expenses. Now that you are in the habit of saving, the next sensible step is to put that money toward something substantial. Experts suggest the first step of saving is building up an account that is large enough to cover your living expenses for three to six months. This will tide you over in case there’s an unexpected event that keeps you from earning your regular salary. That may be an illness, your company downsizing or anything that leaves you suddenly unemployed. Calculate exactly how much you need to live on each month, and start saving. Then, even if the unthinkable happens, you won’t be up a creek without a paddle.
- Build up a series of cash reserves – including an emergency fund. Aside from living expenses, it’s important to have accessible cash for those unanticipated events, like a major household repair or a medical emergency.
Your Turn: What steps have you taken toward building your savings this month?
Smart money management is always important, but it can take on more urgency for those who are without a partner. Whether you’re divorced, widowed, or single by choice, single parenting brings unique budgeting challenges.
Marilyn Timbers, a Connecticut-based financial advisor, says of having to raise a child on one income: “Children are a joy, but they do not come cheap.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes in a report that it costs an estimated $241,080 for a middle-income couple to raise a child to age 18, and some single parents have to shoulder that responsibility alone. Even if child support is adequate – unfortunately nearly 50% of that support is never paid – you’ll do yourself a favor if you think ahead about financial matters as a single mom or dad.
Estate planning is your first priority, according to Lisa Hay of Ascend Financial. It’s essential to make arrangements for your children should you become incapacitated, and this means spending time on two documents that no one enjoys thinking about: a will, which specifies a guardian for your children and how you’ll pass assets down to them; and a “power of attorney,” which gives someone the legal right to make decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so.
You may also want to set up a trust. A trust is a legal structure in which your assets can be held for the children. It is overseen by a trustee. And check with your employer to see if it offers a disability benefit. Generally, you will get a reduced income amount when you claim disability – anywhere from 50% to 70% of your salary. “Your income is your most important asset,” says Tom Morrill, owner of Morrill Insurance Group. Insuring it can be especially crucial for single parents who don’t have a second income to cover a gap.
Hay also says be sure to have life insurance. What you purchase will depend on your finances, but a term policy is most economical because it’s a straightforward death benefit. A healthy 33-year-old woman, for example, would pay roughly $240 a year for a 20-year term, $500,000 life insurance policy. This would get your child through college should something happen to you.
Health insurance is “the number one insurance need for a single parent,” according to Morrill, who considers life insurance a close second. People often complain about the cost, but if you’re uninsured, a serious medical procedure or hospital stay can be disastrous to your finances. And, of course, losing a job or becoming ill is still more catastrophic as a single parent than as part of a two-income couple. A recent Harvard study revealed that 62 percent of bankruptcies were caused by medical debt. You can comparison-shop for policies at your state’s marketplace or at HealthCare.gov.
Along with the rest of your boring-but-necessary financial thinking, don’t forget about tax breaks. If you’re a single parent, you should probably file as head of household (not as single) because you’ll often pay less and get to claim a higher standard deduction. You can also claim exemptions for yourself and each qualifying child. You also might qualify for the earned income tax credit, the child and dependent care credit (if you pay someone to care for your kids), and the child tax credit.
As far as day-to-day household operations, here are a few more things to keep in mind:
- Credit cards – In The Financial Guide for Single Parents Workbook, Larry Burkett warns single parents that, while credit cards may seem like an easy way to fill in the gaps of a decreased income, it’s wise to avoid using them as much as possible.
- Shopping in general – Many single parents have to make lifestyle adjustments after a divorce or the death of a spouse. You may need to consider moving or changing your spending habits. Burkett notes that lots of people like to go shopping to cheer themselves up, but the added debt you’ll incur will only make you feel worse. This even applies to groceries, which are an expensive part of the budget. Plan that trip carefully, too, so you can better avoid impulse buying.
- Holidays – Guilt causes many single parents to overindulge their children, even if they can’t afford it. This is especially true during holidays and birthdays. Be sure to set designated amounts for gifts, and stay within the budget.
- Ask for help – Check with your credit union for financial advice. And there are many nonprofit organizations with programs specifically designed for single parents.
Whatever your income, it’s important to give yourself a safety net, because emergencies happen. Put aside a little bit of money from each paycheck to set up an emergency fund for car repairs, broken refrigerators and other realities of life. As a general rule, experts recommend having six months’ worth of non-discretionary expenses in an account that is separate from the one you use for daily expenses. That could be a savings account or possibly a low-risk investment account.
Bucket budgeting can help, says Jan Cullinane, author of AARP’s The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement. That means creating four different accounts: one for fixed monthly expenses such as food and bills, another for long-term expenses like retirement or replacing appliances, a third for emergencies and a fourth for discretionary spending.
“Put the appropriate amount of money into the first three, and whatever is left is your discretionary or ‘fun’ spending,” says Cullinane. “If there is nothing left for that month in the ‘fun’ bucket, you simply go without – you don’t dip into the other buckets. Harsh, but necessary.”
And it’s more doable than you’d think. One study asked people if they could save 20 percent of their income. Most respondents said no. But, when asked if they could live on 80 percent of their income, most said yes. “Be aware of how you frame questions to yourself,” Cullinane says. “You might be surprised.”
Your Turn: Have you faced tough questions and financial circumstances as a single parent? What were the most useful solutions you found?
Do you ever get the feeling that your financial priorities might be out of whack? Start putting together all your receipts, account statements, credit card bills and other piles of paper that comprise your recent financial history, and try this three-step process to find out.
1. Establish your priorities
Going through the daily motions of life, you may never have time to think about the reasons for which you’re earning money. Very few people are getting up and punching the clock every morning with the hope of building a Scrooge McDuck-style money room. Most of us are trying to put food on the table, keep the lights on and provide for our loved ones. Those things are our priorities.
Write down on a sheet of paper the top five things you want to achieve with your money. Number one will likely be paying bills, but there’s quite a bit of flexibility in the rest of the list. Are you saving for a down payment for a house? Maybe you want to take a dream vacation or start a small business. Perhaps financing your children’s higher education is a priority for your family. You might have charities you like to support, or dreams of retiring early.
Spend some quality time thinking about where you want to spend your money. If keeping to five options feels too limiting, feel free to go beyond that. Just keep the list in order of what you want to do. There aren’t right and wrong answers here. If your priority is owning the world’s largest Barney the Friendly Dinosaur costume collection, that’s fine. What matters is that your list reflects your values and commitments.
2. Identify your realities
This is where that mountain of paper in front of you comes in handy. Take stock of your spending in any given month. For each of your financial priorities, how much of your paycheck goes to each?
Make a list of your top 10 categories of spending. Try to account for as much of your paycheck as you can. Put your biggest expenses at the top, and then list all the way down to the smallest. Feel free to make categories as you go and reshuffle them as patterns become more apparent. Don’t stress too much about where to categorize things. Just go with your gut.
Now, compare the list of expenditures to the list of priorities. Is your money going where your mouth is? Are you spending to bring yourself closer to your priorities, or do they just exist on that sheet of paper you had in step one?
3. Make a plan to fix it
Don’t get discouraged if you find you’re nowhere near your priorities. Remember the statistic in the beginning. Half of Americans usually spend their tax refund on a big-ticket purchase or a vacation, and most of them also say they want to save for retirement and get out of debt. You’re not alone in living far away from your financial ideals.
It might not be a bad idea to revisit your priorities briefly. Perhaps you were too strict when you set your priorities. It might be that you prioritize day-to-day comfort. There’s nothing wrong with doing so, but look where it ranks on your list of priorities. Is the joy you get from your daily indulgences worth the trade-offs it brings? In short, given the plans you have, do you regret any purchases? Those are the ones you want to cut from your budget and lifestyle.
You don’t need to switch overnight from your current financial attitude to one that’s totally in line with what you want your money to do. Making too strict of a plan will make you unhappy, frustrated and more likely to bend back the other way. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
Pick one action you can take tomorrow to bring yourself closer to achieving your priorities. Cancel a monthly music subscription and put the $10 into a savings account. Cook in one more time next week and put the difference toward your credit card bill. Once these changes start to feel effortless, look for more ways you can tweak your spending habits to make your priorities and realities line up a bit better.
If you need help reaching your savings goals, UCCU can help. There are many ways you can automate your savings and assist in keeping you on the right track. Call (800) 453-8188 or stop by a UCCU branch today!